The increasing average age of the U.S. population is creating a vast market for medical treatment, especially minimally invasive procedures. In a fragile economy, patients prefer minimally invasive methods, boosting the consumption of plastic polymers, which are ideal for use in catheters and medical tubing. A new Frost & Sullivan study finds that the total North American market volume of plastics in medical devices totalled 1,370 mln lbs, corresponding to revenues in excess of US$1 billion. By 2018, revenues are expected to equal US$1.45 bln, fuelled by a compound annual growth rate of 5.2%. Commodity plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) accounted for most of the total volume. Growth is driven by rising baby boomer population that has surpassed 76 mln, as well as an increasing number of young people requiring medical care. Higher incidence of lifestyle diseases, along with governments' keener focus on improving healthcare, drives the demand for medical devices and consequently, plastic polymers. Reduced hospital stay to lower healthcare costs will increase the focus on homecare medical devices and enhance the demand for dialysis kits and diabetes control devices. This will therefore augment the need for medical plastics. Plastics are preferred in homecare devices due to their flexibility, durability and light weight. On the flip side, there are some concerns about the use of polymers in medical devices, especially in terms of degradability and recyclability. Nevertheless, this environmental issue has not reached a critical state. The low price of commodity resins like PE, PP, PVC and their high performance characteristics makes them irreplaceable in the near future. There has also been heightened focus on engineered polymers such as co-polyether-ester elastomers (COPE), polyether block amides (PEBA), and acetal chemistries that have more advanced performance properties for niche, technologically advanced healthcare applications, such tissue engineering and implants. These new materials will expand the scope of plastic polymers' application and propel the market. The U.S. has been the global leader in medical device development for decades. It boosts the overall economy, reduces the foreign trade deficit, and provides jobs and products that enhance and save lives. However, in recent years, regulatory uncertainty at FDA has begun to hinder industry�s growth. These uncertainties have driven up costs and could drive away medical technology innovation and jobs, hampering America�s economic recovery and future prosperity, as well as the health of its citizens. For the United States to keep its world leadership in medical devices - a key driver of our economy and quality of life, it must restore an appropriate regulatory balance that fosters innovation in addition to ensuring product safety. As per Baiju R. Shah, President and CEO and a Founder of BioEnterprise, while the fundamentals to drive global industry growth are strong, the U.S. medical device industry is faced with a new challenge in regulatory uncertainty regarding the approval of new medical devices. Depending upon the nature of the medical device, the development costs can range from US$10 mln and a few years to upwards of US$75 mln and a decade of development due to required technology and clinical studies. Stumbling along an unclear regulatory path can adds millions more and years of time to the path of these devices. These costs and time to market have increased recently. In part, the additional time has been due to low staffing levels at the FDA, an issue that will be seemingly addressed through the higher user fees that have been agreed to by the industry. However, increased staffing alone will not cure the uncertain nature of the regulatory pathways for medical devices. This is the primary challenge to maintaining U.S. leadership in the medical device industry. Interestingly, the medical device industry is one of only a few U.S. industries that has a positive trade surplus, meaning the country exports more than it imports.
Innovation, performance, quality and price are important factors influencing the use of polymers in medical devices. Although polymer prices are set to increase gradually, they are, nevertheless, expected to replace other materials like glass and metals. Therefore, the ability to engineer and customise polymers according to varied application needs will create lucrative opportunities. An analysis from Frost & Sullivan finds that the European market for polymers in medical devices earned revenues of �602 mln in 2011 and estimates this to reach �1075.4 mln in 2018, boosted by the increasing replacement of other materials by polymers in medical devices. growth caused by three factors: a rapidly greying population; increasingly sophisticated equipment; and portable, impact-resistant medical devices suitable for homecare settings. A rapidly greying population with its attendant healthcare needs will have a positive impact on the medical devices market and, by extension, on polymers used in such equipment. This will be reinforced by the uptake of increasingly sophisticated equipment by the healthcare industry and the growing importance of portable, impact-resistant medical devices that can be used in homecare settings. Already, polymers with higher chemical and impact resistance, superior mechanical and thermal properties have become the material of choice for most medical applications like medical tubing, wound care, adhesives and lubricants. The healthcare industry is exhibiting increased interest in miniaturisation, homecare, and aesthetics for medical devices. Polymers which have exceptional durability, flexibility and strength, and can also be dyed in any colour, meet such demands. Polymers also fulfill the need for lightweight, portable, smaller-sized devices. In comparison to other verticals, such as automotive and construction, polymers in healthcare is a low-volume market. However, it offers opportunities for higher margins and, moreover, is less tied to GDP growth. Despite being low-volume, the market is defined by high competition and innovation. Efforts to advance polymer functionality and diversify the application base will help companies establish their presence in the market. Governmental pressure could lead to lower healthcare costs, likely limiting profit margins of polymer suppliers. Additionally, the market is highly regulated and product development is expensive and time consuming.
Asia-Pacific constitutes the fastest growing market for medical plastics globally. The medical plastics market is projected to grow rapidly, particularly in developing regions, such as Asia-Pacific and Latin America. This growth is driven by a gradual increase in demand for sophisticated medical devices and enhanced medical care. The healthcare market is less affected by changes in the economy than others are, and this allows for growth in the medical plastics market. Factors generating greater demand for medical plastics include reductions in healthcare costs; advancements in sterilization techniques; technological innovations; and the use of disposable medical supplies. Also, materials with improved properties that meet infection-control standards are in development. Additionally, the development of novel materials, such as biocompatible polymers for medical implants, will address the environmental concern that is prevalent in the global medical plastics market.